White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove says President Bush is seeking fair and comprehensive immigration reform, and Tuesday, the White House official reached out to a major Latino organization that is meeting in Los Angeles. The presidential advisor urged Hispanics to work with the president on a bipartisan compromise to the divisive issue.
There are 11 to 12 million people living illegally in the United States, and most of them are Latino. So immigration-reform tops the agenda of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group that is holding its annual meeting in Los Angeles.
Karl Rove, a key advisor to the president, assured his listeners that Mr. Bush shares their desire for comprehensive reform of a broken immigration system.
Congress is divided over how to fix it. A bill passed by the House of Representatives stresses border security, and would treat those in the country illegally as felons. A senate bill encompasses security concerns, but would also create a guest worker program and allow many illegal immigrants to work toward citizenship. Neither bill will became law until the two houses of congress compromise and send a final bill to the president for signing.
Rove says part of the problem stems from a distorted view of Hispanics as outsiders, like the distorted views of the 19th century Irish, Italians, Asians, and Rove's own Norwegian family.
"Unfortunately, the debate has clouded the views of some people in America and led them to fail to understand that Hispanics and all immigrants are real Americans," said Karl Rove.
The National Council of La Raza is nonpartisan, but with its Latino activist roots, it is not the kind of group that would normally give Republican Karl Rove a warm reception. At several points, in fact, antiwar protesters heckled the White House official, and were led out of the room.
But the presidential advisor was also addressing concerns of some in his own party who say illegal immigrants should be deported. Rove said the president opposes an amnesty, but believes a way should be found for those with roots in this country to stay here.
"We ought to provide a way for them to do so by paying a penalty and showing that they want to be Americans - pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, pay any back taxes, learn English, and work at a job," he said.
He adds that those who came illegally should go to the back of line behind others who are awaiting citizenship.
That message was not entirely welcome. There were scattered boos mixed with applause as the speech ended.
Rove called for a civil, respectful debate and a bipartisan effort to find a practical solution to the immigration issue.